Saturday, March 26, 2016

John 19:28 - 37, A Homily for Good Friday Evening

Our text tonight is drawn from the Gospel of John 19:28-37:
"28 After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), "I thirst." 29 A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. 30 When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, "It is finished," and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. 31 Since it was the day of Preparation, and so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken and that they might be taken away. 32 So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him. 33 But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34 But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. 35 He who saw it has borne witness--his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth--that you also may believe. 36 For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: "Not one of his bones will be broken." 37 And again another Scripture says, "They will look on him whom they have pierced."
When we were all kids, there was a CBS TV program titled “You are there”.  The program took us back to pivotal moments in history and allowed us to imagine that we were all there as those events were unfolding.  Being a lifelong history nerd, I loved this program, as it gave me a sense of what was unfolding.  In time after coming to faith in Christ, I began to read the Gospels in the same way, as their narratives allowed me the reader, to stand on the side and witness the redemptive mission of Jesus unfold. 

The Gospel narrative in our portion of Scripture places us at the point preceding Christ’s final moments on the cross.  In the natural realm, his life is ebbing.  He has been awake approaching 36 straight hours and he has experienced indescribable physical and spiritual trauma.  To magnify this all, in his omniscience, he has seen it all and felt the sting of the events before they actually occurred. 

While in deep intercession, before his Father, Jesus experienced an extreme hypertensive event so severe that it caused the capillaries supporting his sweat glands to rupture, mingling blood with his perspiration.  Later, he’d experience multiple blunt force injuries at the hands of Temple Guards, Roman soldiers, and Herod’s cohort.  He suffered severe lacerations/blood loss resulting from a flogging that tore flesh off his upper torso.  Following all of this, in what would have killed most of us, he was then nailed to a rough-hewn Roman cross, Piercing skin, tearing flesh, and damaging nerves.  For the first time in all of eternity He sensed the separation from his Father as the sins of all of humanity was heaped upon him as he who knew no sin, became the offering for the sins of all.  For the past several hours, he had been hanging naked and exposed to the elements.  Here is where we find ourselves in John’s Gospel. Humanity’s redemption was now seconds away from its completion.

 We find ourselves now an unfolding scene that may have taken only a few moments to pass, yet in this short span multiple prophecies were being fulfilled.

Though Christ’s Divinity had no need for food or drink, he absolutely required it within his humanity.  It had likely been fifteen hours since he had anything to drink.  This would be unpleasant under normal circumstances, but he was in the middle of a dire one.  Beaten, flogged, impaled, and now exposed to the midday heat, Jesus was severely dehydrated.  Speaking to those witnessing his execution, he proclaims

“I thirst.”

David wrote of this moment in his 22nd Psalm where it is recorded:

“My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death.”

Responding to Christ’s request, a sponge soaked in sour wine was lifted to him to quench his thirst.  This fulfilled another prophecy as recounted by David in Psalm 69:

“They gave me poison for food, and for my thirst they gave me sour wine to drink.”
Though the “they” in our passage aren’t explicitly identified, there is ample evidence to suppose that it was one of Christ’s executioners who offered the drink, maybe in a moment of compassion for the condemned.  There were two measures of wine there at the spot of the crucifixion.  There was the fortified wine, mixed with myrrh intended to dull the senses and sedate the victim.  Jesus refused this, intending to face his vicarious sacrifice and death on our behalves fully alert and focused.  The second measure of wine was there for the soldiers, to quench their thirst’s while out in the hot sun. 

There are those who’ve questioned the accuracy of this passage, given the fact that the hyssop plant is a spindly herb which doesn’t grow taller than 24 inches, stating that such a plant would be completely insufficient to reach the height of one crucified or support the weight of a soaked sponge.  Perhaps a more accurate read of this might be that the sponge, rather than being lifted up (or supported by) hyssop, the sponge was lifted up along with hyssop.  This would make the sour wine more palatable to the recipient.  Those soldiers attending the crucifixion, being Legionaries, were armed with a long, slender javelin known as the Pilium.  In its Greek-equivalent, it was known as a hyssos.  But this herb played a much greater role in the religious life and law of the Jewish people.

John tells us that this all occurred in order that “Prophecy might be fulfilled”.  We can’t imagine that this was staged moment by Jesus as if he were playing from a script.  No, his thirst was very real and the Master was parched.  And though the executioners may have been completely ignorant of God’s prophetic word, Jesus knew them intimately as he himself was the Living Word.  He knew that the prophetic was becoming reality.

Hyssop would appear elsewhere in the redemptive story of the Jewish Nation.

In Exodus 12, hyssop was used to mark the LORD’s people. 

“Take a bunch of hyssop and dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and touch the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood that is in the basin. None of you shall go out of the door of his house until the morning.”
On that first Passover night when the destroying angel swept through Egypt, killing the firstborn throughout the land.  Only those sheltered behind the hyssop and blood marked doors were spared from this death sentence.

In addition to being the image of the Passover lamb, Christ was also prefigured by the heifer that was given as a sin offering for the people of Israel.  Hyssop was prescribed as part of the Sin Offering that was regularly made on behalf of the Jewish people by their Priests.  Numbers 19 recounts this

"And the priest shall take cedarwood and hyssop and scarlet yarn, and throw them into the fire burning the heifer."
Given the aromatics in both cedar and hyssop, this had to provide a scent that masked over the otherwise unpleasant smells associated with the slaughter and immolation of the sin offering.

The state of Christ’s body at mortem was seen in the description of the Passover lamb.  The Lord’s instruction to Israel in Exodus 12, and again repeated in Numbers 9 plainly stated that the no bones were to be broken while offering up the lamb.  This animal was to be a perfect specimen even in its death.

John’s crucifixion narrative describes the routine procedure of Crurifragium, or the breaking of the condemned victim’s legs as either an act of mercy or expediency.  With their legs broken, the ability to support the upper body in respiration was severely compromised.  The victim would soon die from suffocation.  This wouldn’t be the case with the Christ.  As the soldiers went on to shatter the legs of the two thieves, they saw that Jesus had expired.  One of the execution detail members thrust his javelin upwards and into Christ’s Thoracic cavity, ripping through lung, pericardium and heart, resulting in the flow of blood and pericardial fluid. In this moment, the words of the Prophet Zechariah were fulfilled as all in attendance stood viewing the pierced and lifeless body of Jesus.  Many to those now wept

Several have conjectured as to what actually killed Christ.  They’ve addressed the totality of his of his injuries and their theories are reasonable.  I believe Scripture gives us a better answer.  If any singular thing killed the Christ, it was your and my sins.  For our sake he who knew no sin was made to be sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Those who clamored the loudest for Christ’s death now demanded that his lifeless body be removed from the cross and taken out of sight.  In a moment of sad irony, those who rejected the Lamb of God, were so incredibly zealous to stand on the letter of the law.

If this were the whole story, we would find ourselves at a pretty sad point right now.  The events of that Good Friday were about much more than an exercise in prophecy fulfillment.  It was to be prime meridian of human history and our relationship with our Creator. 
In verse thirty of John’s Gospel account, we read:

When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, "It is finished," and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

The three most powerful words since “Let there be” were shouted from the place of the skull: It is finished! (Telelestai)  God’s redemptive plan that was conceived in eternity past, announced to Adam & Eve in the garden, spoke of by the Prophets, heralded John the Baptist had now been brought to complete fruition.  But what had just happened?

In speaking to Nicodemus in John 3, Christ spoke of what would be accomplished on Calvary

14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 16 "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

Adam’s sin debt incurred in the garden was paid in full.  From the time of Adam, to the time of Jesus, innumerable animals died and a sea of blood was spilled, yet this didn’t so much as ay the interest”.  In Christ, this debt was now wiped clean.  All who trust in Christ, and in his finished work on the cross could now stand justified, through Christ, before the Father.
Eternal life in the presence of the Almighty was now also made possible through Christ’s vicarious sacrifice.  The promise made to the unknown thief hanging beside Jesus, the promise of dwelling in his presence is also made to whosoever will believe.

So what are we to make of this account of Christ’s life, death and resurrection?  John answers this in his postscript to his Gospel account:

“but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”


Friday, March 25, 2016

Good Friday -- At the Ninth Hour

Good Friday, at Noon

From Good's Friday's Gospel reading:
So they took Jesus; and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them. Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, "Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews." Many of the Jews read this inscription, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, in Latin, and in Greek. Then the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, "Do not write, 'The King of the Jews,' but, 'This man said, I am King of the Jews.'" Pilate answered, "What I have written I have written." When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four parts, one for each soldier. They also took his tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top. So they said to one another, "Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see who will get it." This was to fulfill what the scripture says, "They divided my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots." And that is what the soldiers did. Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, "Woman, here is your son." Then he said to the disciple, "Here is your mother." And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home. After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), "I am thirsty." A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the wine, he said, "It is finished." Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit
As violent as our modern culture has become, I doubt that many readers of this blog have
witnessed a violent death, or have been called upon to serve as witness to a judicial execution.  

The U.S. is one of the few free societies, along with Japan and South Korea, which still administers the Death Penalty to the worst of offenders.  This said, our American method of Execution is sterile and detached, almost seeming like a medical procedure rather than an administration of death.  Those carrying out the execution have been medically trained and the act takes place in a room  resembling an operating theater.  Executions are carried out behind prison walls and witnessed by just a handful of individuals.  Every effort is made on the part of the state to carry out the procedure in a way that is quick, humane, and sparing the condemned from any unnecessary suffering.  Compared to other nation's who've retained capital punishment, these executions are relatively rare and get scant coverage.  This was hardly the case with the execution of the Christ.

Rome ruled with an iron fist and without pity, and her execution of justice was intentionally brutal.  The Roman crucifixion epitomized this fact.  Those unfortunates who experienced crucifixion died in the most prolonged, miserable way imaginable.  They would, over a period of hours to days, succumb to dehydration, physical exhaustion, and ultimately die by suffocation as breathing became ever more difficult.  Though this execution process could last days in the case of the strongest victims, the process could be artificially accelerated by the Roman's in order to satisfy the desire of the Jewish religious establishment who wanted the executions completed prior to sundown and the start of the Passover feast.

When comparing the most barbaric executions in our modern world to the death of Jesus, they would even be seen as relatively humane.  The execution of Jesus was slow, excruciating, and inhumane in the most extreme ways imaginable.

Jesus knew exactly what he'd be experiencing and I think that why he asked the Father if there was another way.  He was not merely going to die this afternoon.  He would be first offered up as a propitiation, poured out as the only offering fit to satisfy the justice and righteous wrath of the Almighty.  The weight of sin's debt demanded nothing less.  It was only upon it's satisfaction could Jesus cry out "TETELESTAI!", bow his head, and release his live to the Father.

Good Friday -- At Sunrise

From the Book of Common Prayer:
Almighty God, we pray you graciously to behold this your family, for whom our Lord Jesus Christ was willing to be betrayed, and given into the hands of sinners, and to suffer death upon the cross; who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
By modern measurements, the sun would have rose in Jerusalem this morning at 6:36 AM with high temperatures approaching 80 Degrees.  Winds would have been light and steady , blowing in from the southern Deserts, with no chance of rain.  On that first Good Friday as the city was waking up, Jesus' ordeal had been under way for several hours.  Its easy to overlook sometimes, but by now, Jesus had likely been up for over 24 hours.  And, for the past few hours, he had already undergone two sham trials before Annas and Caiaphas where he was exposed to both physical and verbal abuse.  Now, we was being led to stand before the Roman governor, bound and beaten.  In an act of expediency Pontius Pilate would dismiss Jesus, referring him to Herod.  Herod, in-turn, would send him back to the Roman Governor who's legionnaire's will have beaten him within the limits of his life (a beating capable of killing most), before finally nailing him to the cross.  In the next nine hours, Jesus will have experienced an ordeal that's beyond our comprehension.

The cast of actors on this day were a broad and diverse bunch.  There were the members of the Jewish religious establishment who for quite some time, looked for an opportunity to rid themselves of this troublesome Galilean.  There was the Roman Governor who wanted no more trouble than he already had.  There were guards and soldiers.  There were followers, Apostles, and others who by providence were celebrating the Passover, "This year in Jerusalem".  Central to it all though, was the second person of the Trinity.  Jesus, Son of the living God.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Maundy Thursday Night -- Reverie

I will call upon your Name...

Thursday in Holy Week, a New Mandate

From the Book of Common Prayer:
Almighty Father, whose dear Son, on the night before he suffered, instituted the Sacrament of his Body and Blood: Mercifully grant that we may receive it thankfully in remembrance of Jesus Christ our Lord, who in these holy mysteries gives us a pledge of eternal life; and who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
 I'm thoroughly arrested by this unfolding moment. 
"Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, "Lord, are you going to wash my feet?" Jesus answered, "You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand." Peter said to him, "You will never wash my feet." Jesus answered, "Unless I wash you, you have no share with me." Simon Peter said to him, "Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!"
The Christ is only hours away from enduring the most hellish ordeal that could be unleashed against anyone.  The spotless Passover lamb would soon have the sins of the vilest offenders laid upon his shoulders.  It's weight may have felt like the shattering blow from a pile driver. It's at moments of reflection, such as now, my careless sins and betrayals become a foul, wretched stench in my own nostrils.  I'm reminded of what a creep I can be, and stunned by the Divine love that was outstretched on my behalf.

The unfolding picture is truly stunning.  Christ, in demonstrating this love that loves someone to the end, strips down to his inner garments and girds himself with a towel in preparation to wash the feet of his disciples.  Try to imagine a dinner where the host suddenly strips down to his briefs and tee-shirt or her bra and slip; it would be an awkward moment at the very least.  Jesus is now seen as the servant of all; transformed from High King of Heaven to lowly house slave. All were shocked, but Peter seems to have been scandalized as seen in his reaction.  Jesus doesn't mince words; without this "washing" St. Peter would have no share in the Kingdom.  Peter suddenly gets it, and all but asks that his hands and head be washed as well.  Jesus, speaking words of encouragement, assures him that in his surrender & repentance that he's been cleansed.  Yet even the regenerate will need the washing found in confession as a result of walking through this world.

For a visual learner, this moment in the Gospel packs a powerful punch.  It teaches volumes about the Kingdom and how it will unfold.  It shows us that the Kingdom looks far more like a tiny sun-baked Albanian nun cradling the dying and much less like a slick, polished preacher trying to sell you your best life now.  Its self-emptying rather than self-agrandizing. Our Lord has no need or use for proud popinjays who seem to pervade the vast spiritual and cultural wasteland. The "No Fear" Crowd does little more than stir His holy wrath. He saw all of these traits in His onetime anointed cherub, and threw both him and his company of fallen angels down from Heaven. No, He seeks something quite to the contrary.

Now, what about this "Maundy" business?  Maundy is the anglicized version of the Latin word "mandatum" (mandate).  It was on this night that Jesus gave his disciples a new command (or new mandate) in which he told us to "Love one another".  It would be by this love, that the world would know that we belong to the Almighty.

Consider on this Maundy Thursday... Our Lord seeks those who've grasped the concept that in the greater scheme of things, they're truly of no account. They've got nothing to bring to the table. These are the ones whom the Master can fill with His power, and may well use them mightily in proclaiming the good news of the kingdom in both word and action.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Wednesday in Holy Week

From the Book of Common Prayer:
Lord God, whose blessed Son our Savior gave his body to be whipped and his face to be spit upon: Give us grace to accept joyfully the sufferings of the present time, confident of the glory that shall be revealed; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Another Passover was upon Jews and like so many of our holiday dinners, things may have become a little mechanical for some of those gathered in that upper room.  The wine, the unleavened bread, the bitter herbs; all part and parcel of a meal recalling an event that took place beyond anyone's memory.This passover would be like none other since that first one celebrated in Goshen.
St. John paints an interesting picture of the unfolding betrayal. Of the eleven faithful disciples, only St. Peter and the beloved disciple are initially aware of that Judas, son of Simon Iscariot, is about to betray the Master. In fact, the remaining nine seem to think that the Teacher has sent their brother out to provide for those in need on this feast night. This  was hardly the case.

Judas, according to Matthew's account, had already agreed to deliver the Master into the hands of his enemies and was well paid for the deed. Now, he simply had to work out the logistics of making sure that Caiaphas's temple guards would make into the garden in time to apprehend the Christ. 

There are volumes of apologetics in print, that attempt to give an explanation for WHY Judas betrayed The Christ.  These range anywhere from pious conjecture to pure nonsense.  The WHY will be revealed on that great and terrible day when all will stand before the Father and all things will be made known (A day that each of us, if we're honest with ourselves, fear as nothing will be hidden).  

Judas should be a cautionary tale for each of us.  Though he was one of the twelve who proclaimed the good news, drove out demons, and healed the sick, he was also known as a thief to his fellows.  This "power evangelist" was now twisted in to the traitor of all time.  Its a warning and reminder that the enemy of our souls is highly adept at leveraging "character flaws" (what was once more commonly called sin) in our lives, and enticing us to do deeds beyond darkness. 

We've come to a societal point where betrayal is so common place that it seems to have lost its shock with many.  This morning, my mind goes to a lyric by Don Henley from his iconic "Sunset Grill":
"Respectable little murder's pay, they get more respectable everyday..."
We are all capable of becoming the Iscariot.  May all of our heart's be guarded, today and always.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Tuesday in Holy Week

From the Book of Common Prayer:
O God, by the passion of your blessed Son you made an instrument of shameful death to be for us the means of life: Grant us so to glory in the cross of Christ, that we may gladly suffer shame and loss for the sake of your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
So much had happened in a few dozen hours; a man dead four days was walking among the living, the words of Zechariah 9:9 had been fulfilled
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
 Now the voice of God the Father was rolling like thunder. Doubtless, many of those gathered in 
Jerusalem for the passover may have sensed in their hearts that they were on the cusp of something epic, something that was paradigm-shifting. Yet for all of this, the Christ is standing center stage, with a heart that grows heavier with each beat.

A heavy heart is not an enviable possession and I suspect that most reading this this morning have the sense of a heavy heart.  Even so,  our heaviest of hearts could never even approximate what Jesus was experiencing.

What weighed on Christ's heart? Was it the knowledge that in less than 72 hours, he would become the recipient of 15 hours of hell on earth? Was it knowing that the city where he stood would be leveled and her residents the recipients of imperial genocide? I suspect that what was occurring at present was certainly a cause for sorrow. At this point, the city was swelling and surging as pilgrims filled Jerusalem in preparation for the Passover. The lion's share of those coming for the Lamb of Passover would ultimately reject the Lamb of God.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Monday in Holy Week

From the Book of Common Prayer:
Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Omniscience is not one of our strong suits as people.  Often times, we're far closer to being bricks than approaching anything close to omniscient, not being able to see the impending consequences of our own shortsightedness. This I suppose is a divine gift, given our fallen natures.  Omniscience would probably drive us insane or make us suicidal.  For instance, consider what it would be like after receiving a welcome fit for a king just yesterday, you knew that in four days you'd be betrayed, tortured to the point of death, and finally dying on a Roman cross in abject humiliation?

Consider further the omniscience of the Almighty in light of today's Gospel reading.  In the passage we see Jesus at the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus along with the apostolic band.  We could infer that this may have been a feast, celebrating the return of their brother to the living, or not.  What is fact is the fact that there was a deep friendship between Jesus and the three siblings.  It was here that Mary, in an act of devotion broke open an alabaster jar of the finest perfume and anointed the feet of the Master.  I'm confident that many in the room were stunned by  Mary's action, knowing that the perfume flowing out and filling the room was in fact her old age pension.  Judas became indignant, wrapping himself in faux-righteous indignation, rebuked Mary for her supposed waste of such a precious commodity.

Had it been you or I there and possessing the gift of omniscience, we'd have torn into Judas like a hot knife through butter in our otherwise faulty human nature.  We'd have called him out for his hypocrisy and the fact that he was an embezzler.  Or worse, we may have confronted him over what he would do in the next few days.  But not Jesus.  In his love, he only gently rebuked Judas and turned the attention to Mary's act of worship.  

The Master loved the traitor as much as he loved the tender-hearted Mary.  This is incredible and our frail human minds can't comprehend the heights and depths of the pure agape love of the savior.  We must however, apprehend own this truth.

Monday, March 07, 2016

On the Fourth Monday in Lent

From the Book of Common Prayer:
"O Lord our God, in your holy Sacraments you have given us a foretaste of the good things of your kingdom: Direct us, we pray, in the way that leads to eternal life, that we may come to appear before you in that place of light where you dwell for ever with your saints; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen."

Sunday, March 06, 2016

Musical Reverie

More thoughts of today's Gospel reading; "Growing Young" by Rich Mullins.

Reflections on the 4th Sunday in Lent

From this morning's Lectionary, portions of Luke 15:
"There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, 'Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.' So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, 'How many of my father's hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands."' So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.' But the father said to his slaves, 'Quickly, bring out a robe--the best one--and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!' And they began to celebrate. "Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, 'Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.' Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, 'Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!' Then the father said to him, 'Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.'"
The parable of the Prodigal Son is one of the better known New Testament narratives, speaking to unconditional love and  and forgiveness. From a superficial look, it speaks of a selfish son who being bent on immediate gratification, takes his inheritance, blows it, is cast into abject poverty, returns home, and is forgiven by his father.  While all this is a part of the story, there is far more going on within this parable.

For way too many years, I would read this parable with my focus being fixed on the little brother.  His behavior was nothing to write home about.  He was rash, ingracious, and self-centered.  In demanding his inheritance, he insulted his father in ways we westerners don't understand.  He blew through his inheritance like lunch through a goose and when famine hit, he was left destitute. He hatched a scheme to get back into his father's home but the father would hear none of it.  He wouldn't be welcomed back as hired help, rather he was restored as a son and his return was celebrated.

Three years ago my focus was diverted from the prodigal to the "good" son, the one who stayed at his father's side.  For too long, I saw him as an offended party but in truth, he was in as much need of redemption as his party animal brother.  Unlike Bluto, this older hid his darkness behind a veneer of virtue.  He is far more like most of us than we'd ever hope to admit.  Beneath the layers of devotion, diligence and seeming good behavior lay a heart that was bitter and resentful.  He felt resentment on many levels and was furious over the grace his father extended to is brother.

The sense of entitlement is an easy trap to fall into.  We tow the line, do all the right things, behave, and feel that God owes us for our fealty.  Then, we see others getting ahead or being blessed we feel ripped off.  We grumble and hold a simmering resentment over what we believe to be some Divine sleight.  This separates us from the Almighty.

God's word tells us a different story.  Sovereign Grace has been extended to us, not on the basis of our merit but because of the love of God.  Consider the father's words in reminding his son that "he has always been at his father's side and all his father possessed was his.  This wasn't on the basis of his good behavior but on the basis of his father's love. 

We are loved, not because of who we are, but because of who God is.